ClassicsOnline Home » DONIZETTI, G.: Marino Faliero [Opera] (Surian, Stanisci, Magri, Grassi, Bergamo Musica Festival Orchestra and Chorus, Cinquegrani)
Donizetti’s fiftieth opera, Marino Faliero, was first performed in Paris on 12 March 1835 with a cast comprising four of the finest singers of the period before premièring in London a few weeks later. Although these premières were both overshadowed by Bellini’s I Puritani, Marino Faliero subsequently enjoyed a long and successful run of international performances throughout the 19th century before disappearing from the stage until its modern revival in 1966. Set in Venice in 1355, it remains a major work of Italian Romanticism, sentimental, martial, full of conspiratorial adventure and culminating with the execution of the leading rôle. This recording is also available on Naxos DVD href="/catalogue/product.aspx?pid=2.110616-17">2.110616-17.
By Richard Lawrence
Azione tragica in Three Acts (1835 edition)
Libretto by Giovanni Emanuele Bidera
After the tragedy by Casimir Delavigne
Critical revision on the autographs by Maria Chiara Bertieri – Fondazione Donizetti
Marino Faliero, Doge of Venice - Giorgio Surian
Elena, Dogaressa - Rachele Stanisci
Fernando, the Doge’s nephew - Ivan Magrì
Israele Bertucci, Captain of the Venetian Arsenal - Luca Grassi
Steno, a young patrician, member of the Council of Forty - Luca Dall’Amico
Leoni, member of the Council of Ten - Leonardo Gramegna
A gondolier and Strozzi, a fisherman - Domenico Menini
Irene, Elena’s maidservant - Paola Spissu
Vincenzo, the Doge’s servant - Aleksandar Stefanovski
Beltrame, a sculptor - Giuseppe Di Paola
Pietro, a gondolier - Enrico Marchesini
Marco, son of Israele, a conspirator - Livio Scarpellini
Arrigo, son of Israele, a conspirator - Elvis Fanton
Giovanni, son of Israele, a conspirator - Moya Gonzalo Ezequiel
Marino Faliero was first performed at the Théâtre Italien, Paris on 12 March 1835
The historical Marino Faliero (1285–1355) was the 55th Doge of Venice; he was appointed to this position in 1354. He was sometimes referred to, in Venetian dialect, simply as Marin Falier. His infamy related to his attempted coup d’etat of 1355. Although already the Doge of Venice himself, he intended to declare himself Prince. His attempt failed, probably because of the strong Venetian hatred of nobility and because of his own senility—he was in his seventies at this time. He pleaded guilty to all charges and was beheaded and his body mutilated. Ten additional ringleaders were hanged and displayed at the Doge’s Palace on St Mark’s Square, Venice. Marino Faliero was condemned to damnatio memoriae (condemned of memory), and thus his portrait which had been displayed in the Hall of the Great Council in the Doge’s Palace was removed. It was painted over with a black shroud, which can still be seen in the hall today, and which bears the phrase, in Latin, ‘Here is the place of Marino Faliero, beheaded for his crimes.’ The story of Marino Faliero’s attempted coup was dramatised by Lord Byron in 1820, and this version of events was one of the key sources for Donizetti’s opera Marino Faliero, composed in 1835.
Marino Faliero was Donizetti’s fiftieth opera. 1835 was a year of extraordinary operatic activity, witnessing the first performances of Bellini’s I Puritani, Halévy’s La Juive, and Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, as well as his Marino Faliero. Both I Puritani and Marino Faliero were commissioned by Rossini for performance at the Théâtre Italien in Paris. The libretto for Marino Faliero was written by Giovanni Emanuele Bidera, who based his text partly on a play by Casimir Delavigne and partly on Byron’s verse drama. Donizetti had probably arrived in Paris by the time of the first performance of I Puritani. This took place on 25 January 1835. The principal rôles were sung by four of the finest singers of the period, Giulia Grisi, Giovanni Battista Rubini, Antonio Tamburini and Luigi Lablache (later called the Puritani quartet), all of whom were at this time splitting their seasons between Paris (autumn and winter) and London (spring and early summer), and often performing together as a unit. Just over two months later this quartet was to create the leading parts in Donizetti’s opera, which occupies an important historical position as the final chapter in the rivalry between Bellini and Donizetti. Before the première of I Puritani, Bellini had been horrified to learn that Donizetti would again be competing with him, and feared another confrontation, as had happened three times earlier in Genoa in 1828 and in Milan during the 1830–31 and 1831–32 seasons.
Rehearsals for Marino Faliero started three days after Bellini had been awarded the Légion d’Honneur. A few weeks later Bellini wrote to his friend Francesco Florimo: ‘The news of the rehearsals of his Marino is not encouraging. They say that the first act is weak, though in the second there is a good aria for Rubini. I know only the dramatic part, but the music is thin. I believe that it will sustain itself with the great dramatic situations the subject presents, but it will depend on how Labalache’s part goes.’ Then, on 12 March, the first performance of Marino Faliero took place. The audience included Adolphe Adam, Giacomo Meyerbeer and Théophile Gautier. Donizetti felt that his opera was a success, if not an overwhelming one like I Puritani, but good enough for him to write to his friend Dolci: ‘I am sending you a few words about the second and third performances. Rubini sang as I have never heard him sing before and had to encore the aria and cavatina on both occasions. Bellini’s reception with I Puritani has made me tremble a little, but the works are quite different in character, and so we have both obtained a fine success without displeasing the public.’ Bellini, however, being not completely objective, thought that the production was a semi-fiasco. He wrote in a letter to his uncle that the public had been left discontented and that it was incredible that a composer who had shown such talent in Anna Bolena could write such a bad opera.
A few weeks later Marino Faliero arrived at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London, where it was produced with the same cast as had been heard in Paris. Once again its success was somewhat overshadowed by that of I Puritani, given one week later. A contemporary wrote: ‘The production of these two new operas was the event of the season. On such occasions there is always a success and a failure—the public will not endure two favourites. In spite of the grandeur of Lablache as the Doge of Venice, in spite of the beauty of the duet of the two basses in the first act of Marino, in spite of the second act containing a beautiful moonlight scene with a barcarolle, and one of Rubini’s most incomparable and superb vocal displays, Marino Faliero languished, in part from want of interest in the female character—a fault fatal to an opera’s popularity.’ In another contemporary commentary there is a more favourable attitude towards Donizetti: ‘Marino Faliero was not quite deservedly a failure. The worse of the two novelties was most decidedly the more popular, simply because of the strength of three catching melodies, and a libretto which more equally displayed the artists than was the case with Marino Faliero. Nevertheless, I Puritani was full of noise rather than sense.’ It is perhaps revealing that the two operas were repeated during the next season in both London and Paris.
During the nineteenth century Marino Faliero had a long and distinguished history, probably enjoying twice as many productions as the same composer’s Roberto Devereux. It was performed at the Teatro Alfieri in Florence in 1836, and received its American première in New Orleans in 1842, later being presented in New York City. After revivals at the end of the nineteenth century in Florence and Venice, however, it disappeared from the repertory until it was successfully revived in Bergamo in 1966. This revealed the reason for the eclipse of Marino Faliero by Bellini’s masterpiece, and showed that it had both weaknesses and strengths. The action seems improbable and the layout of the scenes is awkward. The part of Elena, the Doge’s wife, is not as significant as that of other Donizetti heroines. Nevertheless, with all its weaknesses Marino Faliero contains melodies of flowing sentiment and of martial ardour. Despite the librettist’s attention to the love-affair between the Doge and Elena and to the Doge’s personal conflict, this is still a major work of Italian Romanticism. It expresses a strong desire for freedom and for political independence with, for instance, a notable highlight being the music written for the conspirators. Shortly after its first performances in France and England, Donizetti was back in Naples during September 1835 for the première of Lucia di Lammermoor, his undeniable masterpiece.
The setting of Marino Faliero is Venice in 1355. Elena (soprano), the wife of Marino Faliero, the Doge of Venice, is continually subjected to attacks on her reputation by the patrician Steno (bass), whose advances she has rejected. Steno then insults Israele Bertucci (baritone), the captain of the Venetian Arsenal, in front of his workers. Steno is punished for these offenses, but Faliero is infuriated by the leniency of the punishment. Israele persuades Faliero to join a conspiracy against the Council of Forty, of which Steno is a member. Meanwhile, Elena has fallen in love with Faliero’s nephew Fernando (tenor), who wants to leave the city to save her from dishonour. During a masked ball, Fernando challenges Steno to a duel for having insulted Elena once again. When Fernando is found dying in the place where the conspirators were to meet, Faliero vows to avenge his death. The conspiracy collapses following a betrayal by one of its members and the Doge Marino is condemned to death. Before his execution, Elena confesses her love affair with Fernando to him. Faliero begins to curse her, but sensing that his death is imminent, pardons her instead. Faliero is led off to his fate. Alone on the stage, Elena hears the sound of the executioner’s axe, screams and faints.
 The scene is the Venice Arsenal, a complex of shipyards and armories, and the heart of Venice’s naval power. The craftsmen there are exchanging the latest gossip. The writing on the wall at the Rialto accuses the wife (Elena) of the Doge, Marino Faliero, of betraying her husband.
 In a show of solidarity they all sing a song of praise to Faliero, recounting his feats at the battle of Zara.
 The head of the Arsenal, Israele Bertucci, enters. Like the craftsmen he celebrates Faliero’s heroic deeds, while lamenting that all that remains of such a glorious past is the memory of it.
 Steno, a young aristocrat who sits on the important Council of Forty, enters and accuses the craftsmen of not working hard enough, despite the objections of Israele.
 After Steno has departed, Israele and the craftsmen sing bitterly of the arrogance and ingratitude of the aristocracy.
 The scene changes to the Ducal Palace in Venice. Fernando, the Doge’s nephew, is meditating alone. He is in love with Elena. Following the accusations against her, written by the evil-hearted Steno, he believes that he will have to leave Venice immediately. He expresses his sorrow.
 Fernando sadly sings of his unlucky love for Elena, and the bitter necessity that forces him to leave. He is ready, however, to face death if he can release her from her unfortunate destiny.
 Elena enters, unexpectedly interrupting Fernando’s melancholy thoughts. She wants to leave quickly but he seeks to persuade her to stay with him.
 Both Elena and Fernando are frightened and upset by their feelings for each other and by their unexpected meeting. Fernando seeks to leave with a final farewell.
 Elena gives Fernando a veil as a memory of her. They are interrupted by the entry of Marino Faliero, the Doge.
 Faliero asks Elena to leave so that he can speak with Fernando alone. She departs. Unaware of the feelings of Elena and Fernando for each other, Faliero tells Fernando of his concerns regarding the vile accusations against his wife. Fernando suggests punishing Steno. Faliero is in addition concerned by the provocative invitation from Leoni, a member of the Council of Ten, to a ball that evening, which he feels he has no choice but to attend. Fernando departs and Vincenzo announces Israele. Faliero asks Israele what he wants and he replies justice against the aristocrat Steno.
 Seeing that Faliero is reluctant to take action, Israele laments the terrible situation in which the city finds itself as a consequence of the arrogance of the nobility. He makes clear to Faliero that he is capable of opposing the Council of Forty. He knows that he can count on a group of conspirators whom he says want to be led by the brave figure of Faliero himself.
 Faliero, convinced, promises justice and the deliverance of the city from Steno and his allies, and from their arrogant ways.
 Faliero agrees to learn more of the conspiracy at the forthcoming ball. Israele will also be present at this, and he will show Faliero the numbers and names of those who support him.
 The scene changes to Leoni’s Palace. Leoni is preparing to receive the Doge. Steno enters, but in disguise, so that he can mingle with the guests without difficulty.
 The ball commences. Faliero furtively meets with Israele, who gives to him the list of the three hundred men who are ready to fight for him. From the list Faliero recognizes the names of a man from Dalmatia, the gondolier Pietro, the fisherman Strozzi, and the sculptor Beltrame. As the music of the ball starts, Israele tells Faliero that the conspirators’ action is to take place that very night, and that the men will be assembling at the Square of San Giovanni. As the music stops Faliero tells Israele to go and find out why it has ceased.
 Left alone, Faliero expresses his bitterness at having to rely on the common people to help him to exact revenge. Elena enters, complaining of an insistent masked guest who is following her and spying on her. Faliero recognises Steno and flares up with anger, thus increasing Israele’s desire for revenge.
 The assembled company, including Elena and Fernando, moves to an adjoining room, well aware that vengeance has only been postponed.
 The setting is the Square of San Giovanni at the dead of night. The chorus describes the gloomy echo of the lagoon, comparing it to their singing.
 The sculptor Beltrame suggests that it is a night for killing, while the fisherman Strozzi seeks to restrain him.
 Fernando is waiting at the time agreed by the conspirators. He is overcome by memories, fears and hope.
 Fernando hears the bell strike three—he knows the time of judgment for himself is near.
 As Fernando continues to yearn for Elena and to anticipate death at the same time, the conspirators enter, led by Strozzi, Beltrame and the gondolier Pietro.
 The conspirators express concern that Faliero is there with them. Israele manages to placate them.
 Faliero greets the conspirators, who express amazement at his words. He sings of his hatred of oppression. During the ensuing storm the conspirators hear the unexpected clashing of swords followed by a scream.
 Faliero expresses great concern. The dying Fernando is brought out. Before expiring Fernando manages to reveal that it was Steno who killed him.
 Faliero and the conspirators swear bloody and ruthless revenge.
 The setting is the Ducal Palace at night. The chorus sings of the sadness of the dark night. Irene’s maid hears the lament of birds and of the wind.
 Elena wakes from a nightmare. Faliero enters. Unable to hide his anxiety he tells Elena of Fernando’s death. He adds that there will soon be news of further deaths, as the common people are about to take their revenge upon the aristocracy. Leoni enters, demanding that Faliero as the Doge of Venice defends the Council of Ten, who are being threatened by the populace. Faliero declares himself to be the King of Venice. The Lords of the Night, who have entered behind Leoni, arrest Faliero. He bids Elena farewell. Elena, in deep shock, sings that all is lost for her.
 Elena sings of her desire for death, now that the two closest to her are gone.
 Elena prays to God for forgiveness and comfort, while Irene pledges her loyalty.
 Elena describes her pitiless future, between two graves, while the chorus urges pity for her.
 The scene changes to the Chamber of the Council of Ten. The members of the Council praise Leoni as the saviour of Venice, while the conspirators bemoan their fate. The members of the Council threaten death to them.
 Israele is defiant. Faliero is brought in, and refuses to defend himself, vigorously supported by Israele.
 Israele recalls the glories of the past, and says farewell to his children. Faliero hails him as a hero, leaving his land of sorrow abandoned.
 Israele fearlessly confronts his impending execution. Leoni asks Faliero why he has become a traitor. Faliero replies that it is not he who is a traitor but those who condemn him and who have betrayed the people with their tyranny.
 Leoni reads the sentence of death passed on Faliero. Defiantly Faliero sings of his past triumphs and, left alone, seeks divine solace.
 Elena visits Faliero. He tells her that he will leave everything he possesses to the families of those sentenced to death. He asks to be buried with Fernando and to be covered with the veil his friend had with him when he died. Elena trembles.
 Elena confesses that she gave the veil to Fernando. Faliero is at first enraged.
 Faliero suddenly decides to forgive Elena. The Chorus tells Faliero that his time has come. Faliero says goodbye to Elena, with the thought that they will see each other in heaven. He is led away. Elena hears a priest praying for Faliero. The sound of drums announces his execution. Elena faints, as offstage voices order that Faliero’s body be shown to the people of Venice.